"Winter is a season of recovery and preparation."
– Paul Theroux

What are you seeing out there? We'd love to hear from you!

Please enjoy our December edition. The following posts are from some of our local Harpswell Nature Watchers. All of the contributions below are seen immediately in our Facebook group. Click here to join.

Click here for more information about Harpswell Nature Watchers.
This time of year leftover acorns and other mast become vital food supplies for all kinds of wildlife. Walking through the forest you often see areas where leaves and snow have been disturbed as wild turkeys, white-tailed deer and squirrels dig for a meal. You may not have noticed yet, but with the winter solstice behind us the days are getting just a little bit longer. Spring is only three months away!  

(Submitted by Ed Robinson, December 31, 2020)
Some native plant holiday cheer! Red twig dogwood and winterberry decorating the landscape.

(Submitted by Lynn Knight, December 26, 2020)
This pine grosbeak, the largest of the northern finches, is enjoying a meal in a crabapple tree. They breed farther north in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia and winter in New England.

The common loon in the second picture is in its winter plumage. Loons nest around forested lakes and rivers, but winter mostly on coastal bays.

(Submitted by Jeff Stann, December 23, 2020)
When wetlands freeze too early in winter, before snow accumulation, it can be deadly for muskrats since they are limited in their movements. While the entrances to their dens are safely underwater, muskrats do not store as much food for winter as beavers. The temperature swings we are now experiencing will give muskrats a break. The warm night predicted for Christmas Eve might stimulate some animals to leave their winter hiding spots in search of food. Raccoons do not hibernate as do some other animals so the masked bandits will be out looking for a meal before the next cold snap. Leftover nuts and crops such as corn are favorites when available.

(Submitted by Ed Robinson, Photo by JZHunt iStock, December 23, 2020)
All morning yesterday, three bluebirds were coming to our feeders and seeming just to be having a good time. Bluebirds don’t usually come to feeders, so this was something different. They seemed to be an adult pair and one of their 2020 offspring who might be sheltering with his/her parents during Covid.

Down at Long Cove, these two Long-tailed ducks – a female and maybe an adolescent – were swimming off the bridge leading to Orr’s Island. Long-tails are regular winter visitors to Harpswell.

(Submitted by Jeff Stann, December 14, 2020)
The Carolina wren is at the northern edge of its geographic range in southern Maine. During most of the year, it’s most likely seen skulking in underbrush, but this time of year it can been seen at feeders when its customary forage may be scarcer. The bold white eyebrow and warm rufous color are distinctive.

(Submitted by Jeff Stann, December 12, 2020)
The other day, I saw a phenomenon I've seen more often in the summer, when the ocean is warm and the air cooler, but a few days ago, looking south from Harpswell Sound, I saw an 'inferior mirage', Mark Island is pretty far offshore so it fits with the description of when and how this atmospheric optical effect appears! The first image is zoomed to the mirage. The other two are less zoomed in - one from that day and the other from two days previous without the effect. More about this phenomenon can be found when you CLICK HERE.

(Submitted by Gina Snyder, December 12, 2020)
This is the time of year to find needle ice – This is a phenomenon that occurs when the soil temperature is above freezing (32 degrees F), but the air temperature is below freezing. The moisture in the soil is drawn up to the surface through capillary action where it freezes, building columns of needle-like ice crystals. It happens often this time of year because temperatures dip below freezing at night, yet we haven’t had enough cold days and nights for the soil to freeze. To form, the soil has to have a high water content so you are more likely to see this after we have had rain. Needle ice is different than hoar frost, which is formed by water vapor from the air freezing and crystalizing on the surface of the soil or snow. I spotted these crystals on the trails at Curtis Farm Preserve.

(Submitted by Lynn Knight, December 11, 2020)
Check out Ed Robinson's newest wildlife article! CLICK HERE to learn more about flying squirrels.

(Submitted by Ed Robinson, December 8, 2020)
The other day while walking along the edge of one of our fields. In a meadowsweet bush I saw a nest of what looked to me to be a song sparrow. At a glance, it appeared to have four eggs, so I assumed it had been abandoned. But then I noticed that the "eggs" were actually acorns. And underneath there were six more, for a total of 10!

My best guess is that the acorns had been cached this fall by a red-bellied woodpecker. Blue jays and gray squirrels also store acorns but more typically in shallow holes in the ground.

(Submitted by Bowdoin Prof. Nat Wheelwright, December 3, 2020)
On Monday morning I was in the woods early, enjoying the quiet dawn with the ocean lapping at the shore nearby. The solitude was suddenly disturbed by two bald eagles, one mature with the classic white head and tail, the other a juvenile looking bleak and ruffled. I'm not sure of the issue between the big birds but the mature eagle harassed the young one for about 10 minutes, making all kinds of sharp squawks and squeals, and making short flights at the juvenile's head. The young eagle took the abuse with only some plaintive calls but he clearly got the worst of it.

Later on I had the pleasure of seeing a weasel run across the open ground in front of me. He was still wearing the tan coat of summer, maybe he thinks we will not have snow for some time!

(Text by Ed Robinson, Photo by Dan Hoebeke, December 3, 2020)